Stepping over to the Genesis with the next entry, Castlevania Bloodlines was an interesting addition to the series. It features John Morris, son of Quincy from the Dracula-novels, and Eric Lecarde, taking up the battle against Dracula’s niece: Elizabeth Bartley. Creating a sacrificial war to bring her uncle back to life, she sets up a chain of events, leading to the first World War. With John wielding the Belmont’s whip, the Vampire Killer, and Eric possessing the spear of Alucard, they set out across Europe to take down the resurrected evils and stop Elizabeth’s plans. Before we start: yes, I know this was originally called “The New Generation” here in Europe, but that version is censored and I am not okay with that. I would like to see the real deal uncensored in 16-bit. There are also some odd enemy-placements that can make certain parts easier or harder in the pal-version, so it felt better to go with this version as it is both in english and closest to the original Japanese version.
Fighting evil across Europe
Before you start the adventure, you can choose between playing through as John Morris or Eric Lecard. John uses his trusty Vampire Killer and can attack left and right while on the ground. However, while airborne, he can also attack diagonally, which can also be used to swing from any structure above him, and also attack downward, making him somewhat versatile. Eric is a tad different, as he attacks with his spear. He can attack left and right, as well as upwards and diagonally while he is on the ground, but can only attack left, right, and downwards while in the air. He also sports a spinning attack, which is used to attack quickly behind him. While it spins, it can also cause minor damage to enemies and stun them, but he won’t be able to move, which makes it not overpowered. While he can’t swing from ceilings, he sports a high-jump by charging while crouching, giving him a different way of traversing stages, should the need arise.
Both have the stiff jumps the Belmonts are known for, can jump on and off stairs, and block projectiles with their weapons, making them more capable of dealing with the threats ahead. Subweapons also returns and works similarly for both, except for one special attack, which we will come back to later. The ones you can pick up are holy water for creating fires on the ground, axes to throw upwards in an arc, and a boomerang in a horizontal manner. They also have an alternative special attack that takes more ammunitions, which is this time represented by power-gems instead of hearts to pick up. Holy water will fly in a wave, and the boomerang and axe split into 3. These are just as useful as the normal throws, and all 3 are helpful against the forces of evil, due to our heroes’ somewhat restricted moveset. Another element returning, is the ability to upgrade their main-weapons through pickups. You can upgrade the spear or the whip 3 times, with the last upgrade being lost if you take damage and losing a life downgrades it back to the original form. The final upgrade also sports stronger attacks for the melee-weapon and an amazing sub-weapon attack that are exclusive to each character, which are different forms of screen-clearings.
The stages are the traditional linear setup, each with a bossfight at the end of them. There are only 6 stages, but each is memorable, diverse, long, and fantastically designed to accommodate our heroes’ capabilities. One will have you climb up a flooding castle, while another will have you jump and swing across spinning gears, with of course enemies to fight against. The platforming is always changing to give you something different and with our heroes’ different jumping-abilities, they can approach these challenges differently or even take exclusive routes, which is a clever design.
The enemies throughout these areas are placed so they are a good challenge, without taking you off guard or make you become ill equipped. Knockbacks can still happen, but it rarely causes death thanks to how well designed the areas are. Reflexes will be tested, but never unfairly so. The variety in the creatures is as fantastic as ever, with enemies that all change in the ways they approach our heroes. Some will fly around, requiring you to time your attack, while another will charge at you and you must react to the sound of them approaching. Even better, is that you will be presented with the threats in a safer environment before going full force, giving you a chance to learn. It is a great way to keep you on your toes, but always give you a fair chance. A neat extra, is also the fact that enemies can be affected by environmental hazards and you can use this to your advantage if you wish to.
The bosses share this creativity, with both minor and main-bosses being intriguing in their designs. One was a stone golem, where I had to destroy his body to reach his head, while another was a machine that had one weakness in his heart, but jumped all over the place, forcing me to be careful as I attacked. Sadly, while they all have unique patterns and ways to attack them, most of them are quite easy. A couple of the later ones put up a decent challenge and the last part can be brutal, but most won’t give you much of an issue. Actually, the game is much easier than the average Castlevania-game. This is not a bad thing as it does feature a lot of creativity and still provides a clear challenge. You also have limited continues, so don’t think you can breeze through this game. It is also a bit longer than the previous entries, about 2 hours, so it is nice that it sports a password-feature.
This is a marvelous entry in the series. Two different characters that play slightly different to give you a minor choice in how to take on the challenges, varied locations to visit with different elements to platforming and enemies, and creative boss fights makes this an incredible package. I wish the bosses were more of a challenge, but it all comes together so beautifully and with a good difficulty-curve, it is hard to not smile as you venture through it.
Gameplay Score: 9/10
You will be traveling all over Europe to 6 different castles and they are amazing and unique, while still keeping with the gothic tone. Plenty of dark and strong colors are used, which makes each area memorable, with lovely details in both fore and background. Actually, each area has different deep colors to them, which is a great element to distinguish the different locations. The sinking town in Greece surrounded by reflective water with the sun going down, the flourishing, yet cursed garden in France, and the rusty factory in Germany, each location is dark and unsettling. The enemy-variety fits each location lovely and every creature is a sight to behold. However, the boss fights are the clear highlights, such as the giant moth, the cursed armor and even minibosses, such as the hellhound.
What also sells this game, are the details. The backgrounds feature different weather conditions or minor elements in the far distance, with lots of lovely scenery and animations in the backgrounds. Also nice, is how gory and disturbing the visuals can be. Again, the hellhound grumbles into a gory pile once it is destroyed, a fountain turns its water into blood, resurrecting skeletons in it, and even the last boss is quite revolting. I love it, since it is such a grotesque and creative take on a gothic series. Areas also take good advantage of the system’s capabilities, to create some 3D-effect, like the aforementioned machine-boss or the leaning tower of Pisa, leaning left and right, ending with a boss-fight that includes a semi-3D tower that turns as the enemy flies around you. It is impressive how much could be done with this black box.
The soundtrack is equally amazing and contains plenty of old and new tones from the series. It is fantastic, with each track being intense, rhythmic, and varied, making each piece memorable. It is impressive what they could do with the capabilities of the Genesis sound-chip. You hear quite well the rhythmic-instruments, such as bass and drums, but even a decent representation of other instruments, like organ and keyboard. The energy-pumping and rocking melodies mixes easily well with the more symphonic tones thanks to sharing same quality, and I love it. Unfortunately, due to how much strength the system needs to provide this game’s visuals, there are some terrible slowdowns that are noticeable from time to time when a large amount of enemies are on the screen. I am also incredibly annoyed by how Eric Lecarde’s hair is not blond. I almost thought it is a hoodie he was wearing. These are clear nitpicks however, in an otherwise gory and beautiful game.
Presentation Score: 9.5/10
If you want the best, you gotta be the best
Beating the game the first time, will unlock an expert mode. It might not sound like much, but you will have to beat this mode to acquire the best ending, and it will be a driving force as the normal one is not very satisfying. Alternatively, you can use the familiar Konami Code for some goodies, but since there are two different characters to play through, it makes it easy to replay for not just the best ending, but also for different gameplay styles and different paths. You can also do a cheat for a music-piece when you are fully upgraded, which is great treat. Expert-mode is a good challenge. The enemies are harder and there can be more of them, but never cheaply placed, giving it a fair and harder challenge. I do think however the normal ending could have provided a better cutscene, as it is not very fulfilling and the normal difficulty is still a clear challenge.
Extra score: 8.5/10
Bloodlines was a surprise for me. I was not expecting this much attention to love and detail in both gameplay and presentation. It takes some new elements from both settings, timeline, presentation, and even gameplay, but still pays homage to its classic roots, making it a fantastic upgrade. With its dark and colorful worlds, filled with different locations, great platforming and enemies, and two characters to play as, this is a clear classic to come back to for multiple playthroughs. It is an incredible shame it is not available for download or easy to come by. Please Sega and Konami: no one should miss this classic.